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A photograph of Jim Banke, former journalist with Florida Today and, and member of the 2019 Chroniclers

Jim Banke

Journalist, Florida Today/

Jim Banke spent more than 20 years as a professional journalist covering NASA’s launch and mission operations from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

His space writing career began in 1984 as a student journalist with The Avion, the student newspaper for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was there he earned a Bachelor of Science in aviation business administration, and, many years later, a Master of Science in space education.

He was hired by Florida Today newspaper in 1988 as a temporary space program consultant in advance of the STS-26 Return to Flight mission following the 1986 Challenger disaster, which Banke covered for The Avion from the KSC Press Site. Proving himself an expert in shuttle operations, the newspaper retained him as a full-time space reporter. Working with Florida Today space reporter Todd Halvorson, the duo formed the backbone of the newspaper’s space program coverage in print and online for the next 12 years. They were known for ritually – some would say superstitiously – pulling a wishbone at the command for the shuttle’s main engines to start, each wishing the engine’s high pressure turbopumps would work during the entire climb to orbit. Banke also was well-known for the “loud and proud” space-themed shirts – made by his wife, Dawn – he would wear to every launch. His news copy was distributed nationally by the Gannett News Service and also appeared in USA Today.

During 1994, Florida Today took its first steps toward publishing its content online using the CompuServe Information Service. Finding that its unique and comprehensive brand of space coverage was gaining an international following, newspaper editor Mark DeCotis invited Banke to join him in creating and producing Space Online, the first newspaper website totally dedicated to publishing real-time space news. For their pioneering work in this area, he and DeCotis were honored with the 1996 Digital Edge Award for best online newspaper from the Newspaper Association of America, as well as a 1997 Editor and Publisher’s Award.

On the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1989, CNN broadcaster Lou Dobbs premiered, a website dedicated to all things space related, from launch and mission news to educational initiatives, astronomy and space in pop culture. By the end of the year, Dobbs and company president Sally Ride had recruited Banke to join them at the beginning of 2000 as Cape Canaveral Bureau Chief, covering unmanned launch operations. This move once again paired up Banke with Halvorson, who had become Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief for in 1999. He continued with until resigning one year after the 2003 Columbia disaster to join the Space Foundation, officially ending his professional career in journalism.

Banke has said some of the highlights of his news writing career included traveling twice to Moscow to cover the burgeoning U.S.-Russian Shuttle-Mir program in 1994 and 1995, the Voyager 2 encounter of Neptune at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California during 1990, and launch of an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, South America in 2000. He also has covered the space program from sites throughout the U.S., including the Johnson Space Center in Houston and Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Beginning about 1993, Banke started providing live launch commentary as a volunteer for a local Space Coast radio station, WMMB-AM – a service he performed with few interruptions until July of 2018. From June 2009 to April 2013, he hosted “Space Talk with Jim Banke,” a one-hour radio program designed to inform and inspire others about current events in space.

His expertise and experience with the space program was recognized in 2006 by Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed him to the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Aeronautics and Space in Florida, which led to the creation of Space Florida. For his efforts both as a journalist and space program advocate, Banke was honored by NASA in 2007 with a Distinguished Public Service Medal, the agency’s highest award for a non-government employee. In 2011, the National Space Club Florida Committee presented him with the Harry Kolcum News and Communications Award.

Banke remains active in the local space community as a member of the board of directors of the National Space Club Florida Committee and emeritus member of the board of the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum Foundation. While still residing in Florida, he currently works as a NASA contractor as part of the Strategic Communications Team for the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Originally from Minneapolis/St. Paul, he and his wife have been married since 1983. They have three grown children, three granddaughters, and remain loyal fans of the Minnesota Vikings.